May 9th – 15th: Eastman String Quartet & the “new” Sibley Music LibraryMay 9, 2022
1960: Eastman String Quartet returns from a prestigious overseas tour
Sixty-two years ago this week, on May 9th, 1960, the members of the Eastman String Quartet returned from their nine-week tour that had taken them to Southern Europe, the Near East, and Northern Africa, representing the first international tour ever undertaken by an Eastman School ensemble. The four men had departed from Rochester on March 2nd and had begun their performing in Belgrade (today capital of Serbia; at that time capital of Yugoslavia) on March 9th. Altogether, between March 9th and May 9th, the Eastman String Quartet performed 40 concerts in 25 cities in eight countries, logging some 30,000 miles. The countries on the itinerary were Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Morocco; the itinerary is displayed here. The tour was sponsored by the President’s Special International Program for Cultural Presentations; operationally, the tour was managed by the International Cultural Exchange Service (I.C.E.S.) of the American National Theatre and Academy (A.N.T.A.), a body chartered by the United States Congress. In keeping with the tour’s mission of cultural exchange, the Quartet members played not only an artistic role, but also a diplomatic role. At many stops along their route, the Quartet members were hosted at functions and receptions attended by state and artistic dignitaries representing those respective locales.
The Eastman String Quartet was the third of the Eastman School’s resident string quartets, following the Kilbourn Quartet and the Gordon String Quartet. Like many a chamber ensemble, its personnel composition was not static with the passing of time, but in 1960, the Quartet was comprised of first violinist Joseph Knitzer, second violinist John Celentano, violist Francis Bundra, and violoncellist Georges Miquelle. Profiling the four men in brief:
Francis Bundra (1928-2000), M.M. ’57, joined the Eastman String Quartet in 1959, succeeding Francis Tursi as the Quartet’s violist, and remained a member of the Quartet through the 1962-63 season. He later served on the faculty of the University of Michigan (1965-81).
John Celentano (1912-2009), BM & PC ’37, MM ’41, served on the Eastman School faculty for 33 years (1946-79), after which he was named Professor Emeritus. Mr. Celentano began his faculty service immediately after his wartime service in the U. S. Army Air Force; his was a career of distinguished service as teacher, performer, and widely travelled clinician and adjudicator. Director Howard Hanson formally tasked Mr. Celentano with founding the Eastman School’s program in chamber music. In 2000 the University of Rochester conferred on him the status of Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Chamber Music.
Joseph Knitzer (1913-1967) served on the Eastman School faculty for ten years (1954-64). He had studied under Leopold Auer and Louis Persinger and graduated from the Institute of Musical Art and the Juilliard Graduate School. Before his Eastman appointment he had taught at the Cleveland Institute of Music (1941-54) and had appeared as soloist with most of the major U.S. orchestras. His dozen or so New York City appearances had included recitals at Carnegie Hall and at Town Hall.
Georges Miquelle (1896-1977) served on the Eastman School faculty for ten years (1954-64). Born in Lille, France, he studied at the conservatory in Lille and then at the Paris Conservatoire where he won first prize in violin and graduated with highest honors. He taught at the Longy School of Music in Boston (1918-25) and then served as principal ‘cellist of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (1925-54); he also maintained a private studio in Detroit during that time. His c.v. promoted that he had appeared in concert with composers Ravel, Bartok, Ernst Toch, Honegger, Roy Harris, d’Indy, and Florent Schmitt playing their own works.
Copy of the itinerary for the Eastman String Quartet tour in March-May, 1960. This was the official copy published before the tour, subject to adjustments once the travel had begun. Early in the tour, the Quartet members were advised that three concerts would be eliminated from the end of the tour, with the result that they would return home several days earlier than initially scheduled. John Celentano Collection, Sibley Music Library.
The President’s Special International Program for Cultural Presentations had been mandated and launched by Presidential executive order in 1954, and was thereafter made permanent by two Congressional acts. Where the sponsorship of performing artists was concerned, the pre-eminent criterion for selection was: artistic excellence. Further, the program mandated that off-stage activities were to be planned with the goal of heightening the opportunity for public relations and exchange of good will. Such activities might include meetings with local artists, leaders and students; workshops and demonstration sessions; and interviews or other appearances by radio or television broadcast. In the 1950s the U.S. Government began actively to send abroad American performing artists, athletes, actors, and ensembles and other groups, particularly to non-aligned countries (that is, those countries that were not formally under the hegemony of either superpower). The Sibley Music Library holds one other collection of papers of a performing artist who was sent abroad in the 1950s, Dorothea Dix Lawrence (1899-1979), a singer who explicitly sought to promote American culture via her lecture-recitals on American song; such was her conscious choice with respect to programming. In the case of the Eastman String Quartet, the concert programming included American music, but not exclusively so. It was no accident that the Quartet performed in cities where no Western classical string quartet had ever previously performed.
► Official invitations to three of the Eastman String Quartet’s concerts (in Lebanon and in the United Arab Republic (as the union of Egypt and Syria was then called), and an invitation to a reception hosted by Ambassador and Mrs. G. Frederick Reinhardt (the Honorable Mr. Reinhardt (1911-1971) served in that capacity 1960-61). Such receptions were frequent during the nine-week tour. John Celentano Collection, Sibley Music Library.
In 2003 Professor John Celentano, the last surviving member of the Eastman String Quartet, archived his papers at the Sibley Music Library, the only member of the Quartet to have done so. The John Celentano Collection contains a substantive body of documents that bear witness to the 1960 tour; if Mr. Celentano had not archived his papers, our knowledge of the tour would be restricted to just a handful of Rochester press items and one two-page feature in the University’s journal, Rochester Review. Further, nothing has survived on-site, neither in the John Celentano Collection nor elsewhere in the Eastman School of Music Archives, that documents the circumstances or process whereby the Eastman String Quartet came to Federal attention and was approved for sponsorship for touring. The concert programs, press review, photographs, and other documents in the John Celentano Collection allow us to know the itinerary and the progress of the tour. Further, Mr. Celentano’s correspondence lends a truly personal element to the story of the tour. Mr. Celentano wrote home frequently to his wife Mary, who faithfully preserved his postcards and letters which are now archived. From the vantage point of today, when we might take for granted the instantaneous communication via digitally networked means that we have at our disposal, the idea of handwritten correspondence, delivered by postal carrier and, as necessary, by Air Mail, might seem truly quaint and archaic. It remains that the population in every age has made use of the technologies that were available to it, and fortunately for all, there have always been innovators who have moved things forward. Nevertheless, Mr. Celentano’s writings to his wife Mary constitute thoughtful, personal emanations, often written in solitude late at night in his hotel room, but always with the immediacy of reporting events as they occurred. His letters and postcards communicate much in the way of travel logistics (including changes to the travel arrangements as sometimes became necessary). Thus, we read of some harrowing travel incidents, such as a bewildering drive through the desert from Cairo to Port Said (Egypt) while a major sandstorm was in progress, and a flight from Amman (Jordan) to Cairo on a DC-4 with a faulty pressurization system, such that the Quartet members began to suffer from lack of sufficient oxygen. We also read occasionally of the inter-personal tensions and skirmishes that were perhaps inevitable when four strong-minded artists happened to be travelling together in such close proximity. Mr. Celentano also recounts with respect and with humor the various events—“glistening receptions” in his words—at which the Quartet members were acknowledged by Embassy, consular, and other officials. Ultimately, while Mr. Celentano’s letters are noticeably sparse on news of technical or musical details of the Quartet’s concerts, they are rife with descriptions of local color, and also Mr. Celentano’s personal responses to, and reflections on, the people and circumstances in the eight countries where the Quartet performed. Mr. Celentano’s reflections point to the conclusion that while the sponsoring program sought above all to export American culture and American perspectives, at least one member of the Eastman String Quartet had been immeasurably informed and enlightened by the travel and by contact with the people in the eight countries visited.
It was that same program, the President’s Special International Program for Cultural Presentations, that would sponsor the Eastman Philharmonia for that ensemble’s landmark 1961-62 tour. It is significant that the Eastman School of Music—still young, not yet forty years since the school’s founding—would receive such high-level Federal consideration for two of its ensembles. Director Howard Hanson was active at the Federal level in several capacities, and no doubt enjoyed some measure of influence; his activities in that regard warrant probing research attention. In any event, quite apart from Eastman School history and our own local pride in the School’s achievements, a major take-away from the story of the 1960 tour is that during the years of the Cold War, when both superpowers were maximally using cultural exchange for various ends, the Eastman School of Music played its own role in this international process.
 That is, not taking into consideration the Western Canada tour undertaken in January-February, 1926 by Vladimir Rosing’s Rochester American Opera Company, a troupe that at that time was operating out of the Eastman School of Music.
1989: Official opening of the “new” Sibley Music Library in Eastman Place
Thirty-three years ago this week, on Monday, May 15th, 1989, the new Eastman Place building on Gibbs Street was formally opened (the building was re-renamed Miller Center in 2004). The “new” Sibley Music Library in the building had already been open to patrons since January, but the building’s official opening had been scheduled to take place on May 15th, exactly two years to the day after ground had been broken. Altogether, the day’s events included a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the Sibley Music Library, a reception with refreshments in the atrium (today Sproull Atrium), and then a convocation in Kilbourn Hall at which the distinguished James Billington, Librarian of Congress, was the invited speaker. The festivities were concluded with a recital in Kilbourn Hall that featured performances of music held uniquely in the SML’s Special Collections unit (since 1996 the Ruth T. Watanabe Special Collections). The festivities were attended by more than 350 people, including Eastman School alumni, staff members, faculty members of Congress, and other dignitaries and special guests.
Completion of the Eastman Place construction project (1987-89) represented a major component of a multi-year transformation of the cultural district in downtown Rochester. Other components in that transformation included an addition to what is now called the East End Parking Garage; construction of the MetroCenter YMCA (which, sadly, was closed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic); the Eastman School’s Student Living Center; and the Monroe County courthouse building housing the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division, Fourth Department (at the corner of Chestnut Street and East Avenue). Eastman Place (later renamed Miller Center) was initially intended to be a mixed-use structure, housing academic, retail, and commercial interests. As of this writing in 2022, the building is owned outright by the University of Rochester, and most of the retail-commercial tenants have gone; what was once referred to as the retail concourse on the ground floor is now heavily occupied by Eastman School offices and classroom space.
Separately, there have been formal dedications of specific named locations within the new Sibley Music Library. On May 3rd, 1989, the seminar room (a.k.a. Room 404) on the SML’s fourth floor was formally dedicated as the Elaine Wilson Seminar Room. On June 3rd, 1991, the second-floor reading room was formally dedicated as the Alec Wilder Reading Room, honoring composer and sometime Eastman School student Alec Wilder (1907-1980). On May 3rd, 1996, the fourth-floor special collections unit was formally dedicated as the Ruth T. Watanabe Special Collections (see “This Week at Eastman” entry for week of May 2nd/8th). On April 7th, 2015, the atrium in the Sibley Music Library was formally named the Freeman Family Atrium, honoring three generations of the family of former Director Robert Freeman. Finally, the Louis H. Spector, M.D. Staff Lounge on the SML’s second floor was named in honor of the late Dr. Spector (1911-1991), a benefactor of the Eastman School.
The Weekly Dozen
In this week’s “Weekly Dozen” we recognize a program of chamber opera (1950) produced during the 20th annual Festival of American Music, when a work by Gian-Carlo Menotti was heard for the first time at Eastman; a recital (1956) of the solo piano works of Arnold Schoenberg, narrated by Professor Charles Warren Fox and performed by Richard Woitach, who would soon go on to a distinguished career at the Metropolitan Opera Company; a presentation of an apparently novel work (1971), sponsored by the Student Association and performed in aid of one of the numerous scholarship funds; a memorial tribute (1977) to Professor Cecile Staub Genhart; a farewell concert (1979) given by that year’s graduating seniors; a recital (2016) by Eastman’s premier winds group Harmonie, presented on the eve of their departure for a European tour; and some superlative student performances such as grace the Eastman concert calendar each week of the semester.
March 20th-26th: Fennell conducts the U of R Symphony Band
On March 23rd, 1936, Fred Fennell conducted the second annual concert of the University of Rochester Symphony Band in the Eastman Theater.
March 13th-19th: Rossini’s The Italian Girl in Algiers
On March 19th, 1971, Rossini’s opera The Italian Girl in Algiers (L’Italiana in Algeri) opened in the Eastman Theater for a two-night run.
March 6th-12th: “Stravinsky Week” at Eastman
Fifty seven years ago this week, five days in March, 1966 were officially known as “Stravinsky Week” at the Eastman School of Music,
February 27th-March 5th: New Eastman Symphony
On the evening of Monday, March 2nd, 1998, a unique student orchestra gave a concert under Brad Lubman’s direction in Kilbourn Hall.